This isn’t a murder mystery.
At first glance, it appears like one. On a winter evening, George Clare comes home to find his wife Catherine brutally murdered and their three-year-old daughter crying, “Mama hurt.” Of course as the husband, George jumps to the top of the cop’s suspect list. But it’s not the first tragedy to take place in their house. Just a few years before, a farmer and his wife killed themselves there, leaving three orphaned sons who might know something about Catherine’s murder.
Like I said, this isn’t a whodunit. It’s pretty obvious (although not explicitly stated) from the opening chapter. Rather, this book is about a sociopath, a town sinking into poverty and a marriage in freefall. Also, there are maybe ghosts. Jury’s still out.
The book spans decades, focusing on George and Catherine’s mistake of a marriage and the aftermath of her death. They got married after she got pregnant, and it was an unhappy marriage from the start. They both (separately) resolved to stay in the relationship for the sake of their daughter, but their marriage is-at its best-loveless.
At its worst, the marriage is a nightmare. As we meet George’s coworkers, friends, and girlfriend, we realize the dude is a straight-up psychopath. He’s charming when he wants to be, but deadly if anyone stands between him and what he wants. Catherine gets close to leaving a few times (just walk out the door, girl!) but something always drags her back.
The stuff about Catherine was compelling. I was cheering for her to succeed even though I knew she was going to end up on her floor with an axe buried into her head. I liked the George sections (always fun to play with crazy) but the rest of the book dragged for me. Stylistically, I had an issue with this book’s lack of quotation marks. They caused me to have a lot of “Holy shit did he just say that out loud?” moments, only to go back and realize that no, he didn’t actually say that. Narratively, the book is verrrry slow-paced. I often found myself scanning the book, waiting for the next chunk of plot. Descriptions of snow and farmhouses are nice and all, but I wanted to get on with the story. Besides our main couple, the characters were pretty dull and often ineffective. Despite the author’s insistence that Sheriff Lawton is so consumed with the case (to the point where it affects his marriage) he does a pretty crap job at investigating. And there’s no way he could have been so powerless. Example: they want to talk to George’s daughter about what she may have seen. George says no AND THEY JUST LEAVE IT AT THAT. No follow ups, no court order. They just let their one witness and only suspect go.
Generally I enjoyed the book. It’s not going to make my list for favorite books this year. Honestly, when I was writing this review, I had to go through the book just to jog my memory. But while I wasn’t ever completely invested in it, I still happily stuck with it to the end. It didn’t feel like a waste of my time like some other books, but I wouldn’t fall over myself to recommend it. How’s that for a wishy-washy review?!